September 3rd 2008
I must write to support Frank Abel (29/8/08) who pointed out that the most important improvement politicians can make in education is not necessarily expensive new buildings or highly paid headteachers, but more funding for classroom teachers, especially in areas where the students have a challenging diversity of needs, such as our inner city. Having taught in both the Sheffield schools that have now become academies I am well aware of these needs, and understand that smaller classes are the best way to meet them.
A good headteacher can make a big improvement to a school, but the Lib Dems seem to think there are lots of schools in Sheffield that lack good head teachers (super heads bid to raise standards, 29/8/08). I beg to differ, and believe that what they are lacking in order to make the necessary improvements in our children’s education are the resources to reduce class sizes and meet the individual needs of all the pupils.
I now teach adults who for many reasons missed out on a good education when they were young. I regularly listen to their stories of how the education system failed them, and it usually comes down to the fact that their needs were ignored while the teachers concentrated on other students. This is in no way meant to be a criticism of the teachers- with big classes spanning massive ranges in ability their job is often impossible. So please Lib Dems, don’t take it out on the headteachers- help them to improve the schools by giving them the
resources they require.
Sheffield Green Party
This is the letter that Graham was responding to. Frank Abel is not a member of the Green Party, but has given his permissiion for his contribution to be reprinted here.
I wish to support and add to MH’s letter about the headship of Parkwood High. Those planning the change from Waltheof School to Sheffield Park Academy were left in no doubt about the high esteem in which Andy Gardiner was held not only by staff, but also by parents and governors. They recognised the likelihood of considerable difficulties should he not be appointed principal designate and, as MH reminds us, in an act of calculated betrayal, appointed him for one year with a gagging clause.
The United Learning Trust, the religious organisation now running the school, were also told on many occasions by the governors (of whom I was one) that this was already a good school, an improving school, and that they were lucky to be taking over a school with a great ethos and a great future. We can never say what might have been, but this year’s results are hardly a ringing endorsement of the idea behind Academy schools.
If the enormous investment made in the buildings for these new schools had gone instead into improving their staffing ratio, the money would have been much better spent. New school buildings were and are required of course, but hardly the palaces that have gone up in some places. As for Waltheof, its buildings were already perfectly adequate.
What many of us would have preferred to see, along with the rebuilding programme the government has embarked on, is differential funding for schools depending on their intakes. Obviously getting high results and a good school is immeasurably more difficult at Waltheof than at Silverdale or King Ecgbert schools because of its circumstances. Such schools have many extra needs, but the principal extra support they need is staffing, the ability to cater for a challenging range of individual student needs by decreasing the size of groups.
Instead, we have an increasingly fragmented and privatised education system, which few educational professionals believe will solve the achievement gap between the children of middle class parents and those from a poorer and bleaker background.
Norfolk Road, Sheffield S2